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|History of economics|
Thomas Robert Malthus
|Name:||Thomas Robert Malthus|
|Birth:||13th February, 1766 (Surrey, Great Britain)|
|Death:||29th December, 1834 (Bath, United Kingdom)|
|Field:||demography, macroeconomics, evolutionary economics|
|Influences:||Adam Smith, David Ricardo|
|Opposed:||William Godwin, Marquis de Condorcet, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Ricardo|
|Influenced:||Charles Darwin, Francis Place, Garrett Hardin, John Maynard Keynes, Pierre Francois Verhulst, Alfred Russel Wallace|
|Contributions:||Malthusian growth model|
Thomas Robert Malthus (February 13, 1766 – December 29, 1834) was a British demographer and political economist, best known for his highly influential views on population growth. Malthus is widely regarded as the founder of modern demography. He made the prediction that population would outrun food supply, leading to a decrease in food per person and so to widespread famine. He thus advocated sexual abstinence and late marriages as methods of controlling the population growth.
The influence of Malthus' theories was substantial. His theory of demand-supply mismatches, which he termed "gluts" was a precursor to later theories about the Great Depression, and to the works of admirer and economist John Maynard Keynes. Malthus' idea of humanity’s "Struggle for existence” also had a decisive influence on Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory. Although Malthus opposed the use of contraception to limit population growth, his work had a strong influence on Francis Place, whose Neo-Malthusian movement was the first to advocate contraception. Concerns based on Malthus' theory also helped promote the idea of a national population Census in the UK. His writings also were also influential in bringing about the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
Malthus has since been proven wrong in his assumption that population growth will outrun the food supply, necessitating population control. Malthus' approach was incomplete, and thus inadequate, but his influence has been significant. As human society becomes more and more interdependent through globalization and technological advances, the need to satisfy both the physical and spiritual needs of all people is of paramount importance. While not finding the answers, Malthus nonetheless raised awareness of the need to balance population growth with the needs of that increasing population.
Thomas Robert Malthus was born on February 13, 1766, in Dorking, just south of London, the sixth of seven children of Daniel and Henrietta Malthus. They were a prosperous family, his father being a personal friend of the philosopherDavid Hume and an acquaintance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The young Malthus was educated at home until his admission to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1784. There he studied many subjects and took prizes in English declamation, Latin, and Greek, but his principal subject was mathematics. He earned a masters degree in 1791, and was elected a fellow of Jesus College two years later. In 1797, he was ordained and became an Anglican pastor.
Malthus married Harriet Eckersall, his first cousin once removed, on April 12, 1804, and had three children, Henry, Emily, and Lucy. In 1805, he became Britain's first professor in political economy at the East India Company College at Hertford Heath, now known as Haileybury and Imperial Service College. His students affectionately referred to him as "Pop" or "Population" Malthus. In 1818, he was selected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Thomas Robert Malthus refused to have his portrait painted until 1833, because of embarrassment over a hare lip. This was finally corrected by surgery, and Malthus was then considered "handsome." Malthus also had a cleft palate (inside his mouth) that affected his speech. These types of birth defect were relatively common in his family.
Malthus died in 1834, and was buried at Bath Abbey in England.
Malthus' views were developed largely in reaction to the optimistic views of his father and his associates, who was notably influenced by Rousseau; his work was also in response to the views of the Marquis de Condorcet. His famous work, An Essay on the Principle of Population was specifically an attack on William Godwin's optimistic views on the "perfectibility of society." In essence, Malthus was an economic pessimist.
Principle of population
Previously, high fertility had been considered an economic advantage, since it increased the number of workers available to the economy. Malthus, however, looked at fertility from a new perspective and convinced most economists that even though high fertility might increase the gross output, it tended to reduce output per capita. In An Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, Malthus made the prediction that population would outrun food supply, leading to a decrease in food per person. He even went so far as to specifically predict that this must occur by the middle of the nineteenth century:
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world (Malthus 1798).
His Principle of Population was based on the idea that unchecked population increases at a geometric rate (2, 4, 8, 16, and so on) whereas the food supply grows at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth). With this assumption, only natural causes (accidents and old age), misery (war, pestilence, and above all famine), moral restraint, and vice (which for Malthus included infanticide, murder, contraception, and homosexuality) could stop excessive population growth.
Malthus favored moral restraint (including late marriage and sexual abstinence) as a check on population growth. However, it is worth noting that Malthus proposed this only for the working and poor classes. Thus, the lower social classes took a great deal of responsibility for societal ills, according to his theory. In his An Essay on the Principle of Population, he proposed the gradual abolition of poor laws. Essentially what this resulted in was the promotion of legislation which degenerated the conditions of the poor in England, lowering their population but effectively decreasing poverty as a whole.
Malthus himself noted that many people misrepresented his theory and took pains to point out that he did not just predict future catastrophe:
…this constantly subsisting cause of periodical misery has existed ever since we have had any histories of mankind, does exist at present, and will for ever continue to exist, unless some decided change takes place in the physical constitution of our nature (Malthus 1789).
Thus, Malthus regarded his principle of population as an explanation of the past and the present situation of humanity as well as a prediction of the future.
Malthus, at least in the first edition of his text, predicted continuing famines in Europe which has been proved false. However, some claim that there is no specific prediction by Malthus regarding the future; that what some interpret as prediction was merely Malthus' illustration of the power of geometric (or exponential) population growth compared to the arithmetic growth of food production.
Rather than a prediction of the future, the 1798 Essay is an evolutionary social theory. Eight major points can be found therein:
- Population level is severely limited by subsistence;
- When the means of subsistence increases, population increases;
- Population pressures stimulate increases in productivity;
- Increases in productivity stimulate further population growth;
- Since this productivity can never keep up with the potential of population growth for long, there must be strong checks on population to keep it in line with carrying capacity;
- It is through individual cost/benefit decisions regarding sex, work, and children that population and production are expanded or contracted;
- Checks will come into operation as population exceeds subsistence level;
- The nature of these checks will have significant effect on the rest of the socio-cultural system—Malthus points specifically to misery, vice, and poverty.
Although Malthus' work was strong theoretically, as many critiques later pointed out, the facts have not borne out the conclusions. Nevertheless, his theory of population was highly influential not only in theories of economics but in social policies.
East India Company College
Malthus' position as professor at the British East India Company training college gave his theories considerable influence over Britain's administration of India through most of the nineteenth century, continuing even under the Raj after the company's dissolution in 1858. The most significant result was that the official response to India's periodic famines, which had been occurring every decade or two for centuries, became one of not entirely benign neglect: The famines were regarded as necessary to keep the "excess" population in check. In some cases even private efforts to transport food into famine-stricken areas were forbidden.
However, this "Malthusian" policy did not take account of the enormous economic damage done by such famines through loss of human capital, collapse of credit structures and financial institutions, and the destruction of physical capital (especially in the form of livestock), social infrastructure, and commercial relationships. The presumably unintended consequence was that production often did not recover to pre-famine levels in the affected areas for a decade or more after each disaster, well after the lost population had been regained.
Malthusian theory also influenced British policies in Ireland during the 1840s, in which relief measures during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) were neglected and mass starvation was seen as a natural and inevitable consequence of the island's supposed over-population.
Many theoretical and political critiques of Malthus and Malthusian thinking emerged soon after the publication of the first Essay on Population, most notably in the work of the reformist industrialist Robert Owen, the essayist William Hazlitt, and economists John Stuart Mill and Nassau William Senior, and moralist William Cobbett.
The highpoint of opposition to Malthus' ideas came in the middle of the nineteenth century with the writings of Karl Marx (Capital, 1867) and Friedrich Engels (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy, 1844), who argued that what Malthus saw as the problem of the pressure of population on the means of production was actually that of the pressure of the means of production on population. In other words, the seeming excess of population that Malthus attributed to the seemingly innate disposition of the poor to reproduce beyond their means was actually a product of the very dynamic of capitalist economy—its "reserve army of the unemployed."
EvolutionistsJohn Maynard Smith and Ronald Fisher were both critical of Malthus' hypothesis, though it was Fisher who referred to the growth rate r (used in equations such as the logistic function) as the Malthusian parameter. Fisher referred to "a relic of creationist philosophy" in observing the fecundity of nature and deducing (as Charles Darwin did) that this therefore drove natural selection. Smith doubted that famine was the great leveler that Malthus insisted it was.
Many twentieth century economists, such as Julian Lincoln Simon, also criticized Malthus' conclusions. They note that despite the predictions of Malthus and the Neo-Malthusians, massive geometric population growth in the twentieth century has not resulted in a Malthusian catastrophe, largely due to the influence of technological advances and the expansion of the market economy, division of labor, and stock of capital goods.
Malthus argued that as wages increase within a country, the birthrate increases while the death rate decreases. His reasoning was that high incomes allowed people to have sufficient means to raise their children, such as feeding and clothing them, thus resulting in greater desire to have more children, which increases the population. In addition, high incomes also allowed people to be able to afford proper medication to fight off potentially harmful diseases, thus decreasing the death rate. As a result, wage increases caused population to grow as the birthrate increases and the death rate decreases. He further argued that as the supply of labor increases with the increased population growth at a constant labor demand, the wages earned would decrease eventually to subsistence where the birthrate is equal to the death rate, resulting in no population growth.
However, the world generally has experienced quite a different result than the one Malthus predicted. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the population increased as did the wages, with the spread of the industrial revolution. Malthus assumed a constant labor demand in his assessment of England and in doing so, he ignored the effects of industrialization. As the world became more industrialized, the level of technology and production grew, causing an increase in labor demand. Thus, even though labor supply increased so did the demand for labor. In fact, the labor demand arguably increased more than the supply, as measured by the historically observed increase in real wages globally with population growth. Equally, technological advances in agriculture dramatically increased food production, allowing it to meet and even exceed population growth. The incidence of famine has consequently decreased, with famines in the modern era generally caused by war or government policies rather than actual lack of food.
Malthus is widely regarded as the founder of modern demography. Malthus had proposed his Principle of Population as a universal natural law for all species, not just human beings. However, today, his theory is widely regarded as only an approximate natural law of population dynamics for all species. This is because it can be proven that nothing can sustain exponential growth at a constant rate indefinitely.
The influence of Malthus' theories was substantial. Among others, he developed a theory of demand-supply mismatches which he called "gluts." Considered ridiculous at the time, as it violated Say's Law which basically stated that supply creates its own demand, his theory was a precursor to later theories about the Great Depression, and to the works of admirer and economist John Maynard Keynes. Malthus has also been admired by, and has influenced, a number of other notable economists, including David Ricardo with whom he maintained a long lasting friendship but opposite thinking on economics.
Concerns about Malthus' theory also helped promote the idea of a national population Census in the UK. Government official John Rickman was instrumental in the first modern British Census being conducted in 1801. In the 1830s, Malthus' writings strongly influenced Whig reforms which overturned Tory paternalism and brought in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
Malthus was proud to include amongst the earliest converts to his population theory the leading creationist and natural theologian, Archdeacon William Paley. Both men regarded his Principle of Population as additional proof of the existence of a deity.
Ironically, given Malthus' own opposition to contraception, his work was a strong influence on Francis Place (1771–1854), whose Neo-Malthusian movement was the first to advocate contraception.
Malthus' idea of humanity’s “struggle for existence” had a decisive influence on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Darwin, in his book The Origin of Species, called his theory an application of the doctrines of Malthus. Herbert Spencer, who coined the term "survival of the fittest," was also greatly influenced by Mathusian notions in developing his ideas that introduced Social Darwinism.
- Malthus, T. R.  1993. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192830961
- Malthus, T. R. 1800. An Investigation of the Cause of the Present High Price of Provisions. London: Printed for J. Johnson by Davis, Taylor and Wilks.
- Malthus, T. R.  2004. Effects on the Observation of the Corn Laws. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1419117335
- Malthus, T. R.  2008. Principles of Political Economy in 2 volumes. Cambridge University Press. Volume 1: ISBN 0521075912 Volume 2: ISBN 0521075939
- Malthus, T. R.  1963. Definitions in Political Economy. Reprints of economic classics. New York, NY: A.M. Kelley.
- Malthus, T. R. 1996. Importation of Foreign Corn. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. ISBN 1419125575
- Case, Karl E. and Ray C. Fair. 1999. Principles of Economics. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0139619054
- Elwell, Frank W. 2000. A Commentary on Malthus's 1798 Essay on Population as Social Theory. The Edwin Mellon Press. ISBN 0773476695
- Evans, L.T. 1998. Feeding the Ten Billion—Plants and Population Growth. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521646855
- Hollander, Samuel. 1997. The Economics of Thomas Robert Malthus. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802007902
- James, Patricia. 2006. Population Malthus: His Life and Times. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415381134
- Maddox, John. 1972. The Doomsday Syndrome—An Assault on Pessimism.
- Mayr, Ernst. 2001. What Evolution Is. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0297607413
- Peterson, William. 1999. Malthus, Founder of Modern Demography. Transaction. ISBN 0765804816
- Ross, Eric B. 1998. The Malthus Factor: Population, Poverty, and Politics in Capitalist Development. Zed Books. ISBN 1856495647
- Smith, John Maynard. 1993. The Theory of Evolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521451280
- Sober, Elliot. 1984. The Nature of Selection. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226767485
- Spiegel, Henry W. 1992. The Growth of Economic Thought. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822309734
- Zimmer, Carl. 2001. Evolution—The Triumph of an Idea. Harper Collins. ISBN 0060199067
All links retrieved September 11, 2014.
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Preface to the Second Edition
The Essay on the Principle of Population, which I published in 1798, was suggested, as is expressed in the preface, by a paper in Mr. Godwin's Inquirer. It was written on the impulse of the occasion, and from the few materials which were then within my reach in a country situation. The only authors from whose writings I had deduced the principle, which formed the main argument of the Essay, were Hume, Wallace, Adam Smith, and Dr. Price; and my object was to apply it, to try the truth of those speculations on the perfectibility of man and society, which at that time excited a considerable portion of the public attention.
In the course of the discussion I was naturally led into some examination of the effects of this principle on the existing state of society. It appeared to account for much of that poverty and misery observable among the lower classes of people in every nation, and for those reiterated failures in the efforts of the higher classes to relieve them. The more I considered the subject in this point of view, the more importance it seemed to acquire; and this consideration, joined to the degree of public attention which the Essay excited, determined me to turn my leisure reading towards an historical examination of the effects of the principle of population on the past and present state of society; that, by illustrating the subject more generally, and drawing those inferences from it, in application to the actual state of things, which experience seemed to warrant, I might give it a more practical and permanent interest.
In the course of this inquiry I found that much more had been done than I had been aware of, when I first published the Essay. The poverty and misery arising from a too rapid increase of population had been distinctly seen, and the most violent remedies proposed, so long ago as the times of Plato and Aristotle. And of late years the subject has been treated in such a manner by some of the French Economists; occasionally by Montesquieu, and, among our own writers, by Dr. Franklin, Sir James Stewart, Mr. Arthur Young, and Mr. Townsend, as to create a natural surprise that it had not excited more of the public attention.
Much, however, remained yet to be done. Independently of the comparison between the increase of population and food, which had not perhaps been stated with sufficient force and precision, some of the most curious and interesting parts of the subject had been either wholly omitted or treated very slightly. Though it had been stated distinctly, that population must always be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence; yet few inquiries had been made into the various modes by which this level is effected; and the principle had never been sufficiently pursued to its consequences, nor had those practical inferences drawn from it, which a strict examination of its effects on society appears to suggest.
These therefore are the points which I have treated most in detail in the following Essay. In its present shape it may be considered as a new work, and I should probably have published it as such, omitting the few parts of the former which I have retained, but that I wished it to form a whole of itself, and not to need a continual reference to the other. On this account I trust that no apology is necessary to the purchasers of the first edition.
To those who either understood the subject before, or saw it distinctly on the perusal of the first edition, I am fearful that I shall appear to have treated some parts of it too much in detail, and to have been guilty of unnecessary repetitions. These faults have arisen partly from want of skill, and partly from intention. In drawing similar inferences from the state of society in a number of different countries, I found it very difficult to avoid some repetitions; and in those parts of the inquiry which led to conclusions different from our usual habits of thinking, it appeared to me that, with the slightest hope of producing conviction, it was necessary to present them to the reader's mind at different times, and on different occasions. I was willing to sacrifice all pretensions to merit of composition, to the chance of making an impression on a larger class of readers.
The main principle advanced is so incontrovertible, that, if I had confined myself merely to general views, I could have intrenched myself in an impregnable fortress; and the work, in this form, would probably have had a much more masterly air. But such general views, though they may advance the cause of abstract truth, rarely tend to promote any practical good; and I thought that I should not do justice to the subject, and bring it fairly under discussion, if I refused to consider any of the consequences which appeared necessarily to flow from it, whatever these consequences might be. By pursuing this plan, however, I am aware that I have opened a door to many objections, and, probably, to much severity of criticism: but I console myself with the refection, that even the errors into which I may have fallen, by affording a handle to argument, and an additional excitement to examination, may be subservient to the important end of bringing a subject so nearly connected with the happiness of society into more general notice.
Throughout the whole of the present work I have so far differed in principle from the former, as to suppose the action of another check to population which does not come under the head either of vice or misery; and, in the latter part I have endeavoured to soften some of the harshest conclusions of the first Essay. In doing this, I hope that I have not violated the principles of just reasoning; nor expressed any opinion respecting the probable improvement of society, in which I am not borne out by the experience of the past. To those who still think that any check to population whatever would be worse than the evils which it would relieve, the conclusions of the former Essay will remain in full force; and if we adopt this opinion we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the poverty and misery which prevail among the lower classes of society are absolutely irremediable.
I have taken as much pains as I could to avoid any errors in the facts and calculations which have been produced in the course of the work. Should any of them nevertheless turn out to be false, the reader will see that they will not materially affect the general scope of the reasoning.
From the crowd of materials which presented themselves, in illustration of the first branch of the subject, I dare not flatter myself that I have selected the best, or arranged them in the most perspicuous method. To those who take an interest in moral and political questions, I hope that the novelty and importance of the subject will compensate the imperfections of its execution.
Book I: OF THE CHECKS TO POPULATION IN THE LESS CIVILIZED PARTS OF THE WORLD AND IN PAST TIMES.
Book I, Chapter I: Statement of the Subject. Ratios of the Increase of Population and Food.
In an inquiry concerning the improvement of society, the mode of conducting the subject which naturally presents itself, is,
- 1. To investigate the causes that have hitherto impeded the progress of mankind towards happiness; and,
- 2. To examine the probability of the total or partial removal of these causes in future.
To enter fully into this question, and to enumerate all the causes that have hitherto influenced human improvement, would be much beyond the power of an individual. The principal object of the present essay is to examine the effects of one great cause intimately united with the very nature of man; which, though it has been constantly and powerfully operating since the commencement of society, has been little noticed by the writers who have treated this subject. The facts which establish the existence of this cause have, indeed, been repeatedly stated and acknowledged; but its natural and necessary effects have been almost totally overlooked; though probably among these effects may be reckoned a very considerable portion of that vice and misery, and of that unequal distribution of the bounties of nature, which it has been the unceasing object of the enlightened philanthropist in all ages to correct.
The cause to which I allude, is the constant tendency in all animated life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it.
It is observed by Dr. Franklin, that there is no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other's means of subsistence. Were the face of the earth, he says, vacant of other plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread with one kind only, as for instance with fennel: and were it empty of other inhabitants, it might in a few ages be replenished from one nation only, as for instance with Englishmen.1
This is incontrovertibly true. Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms Nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand; but has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence contained in this earth, if they could freely develope themselves, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious, all-pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law; and man cannot by any efforts of reason escape from it.
In plants and irrational animals, the view of the subject is simple. They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of their species; and this instinct is interrupted by no doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever therefore there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted; and the superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room and nourishment.
The effects of this check on man are more complicated. Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful instinct, reason interrupts his career, and asks him whether he may not bring beings into the world, for whom he cannot provide the means of support. If he attend to this natural suggestion, the restriction too frequently produces vice. If he hear it not, the human race will be constantly endeavouring to increase beyond the means of subsistence. But as, by that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, population can never actually increase beyond the lowest nourishment capable of supporting it, a strong check on population, from the difficulty of acquiring food, must be constantly in operation. This difficulty must fall somewhere, and must necessarily be severely felt in some or other of the various forms of misery, or the fear of misery, by a large portion of mankind.
That population has this constant tendency to increase beyond the means of subsistence, and that it is kept to its necessary level by these causes, will sufficiently appear from a review of the different states of society in which man has existed. But, before we proceed to this review, the subject will, perhaps, be seen in a clearer light, if we endeavour to ascertain what would be the natural increase of population, if left to exert itself with perfect freedom; and what might be expected to be the rate of increase in the productions of the earth, under the most favourable circumstances of human industry.
It will be allowed that no country has hitherto been known, where the manners were so pure and simple, and the means of subsistence so abundant, that no check whatever has existed to early marriages from the difficulty of providing for a family, and that no waste of the human species has been occasioned by vicious customs, by towns, by unhealthy occupations, or too severe labour. Consequently in no state that we have yet known, has the power of population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom.
Whether the law of marriage be instituted, or not, the dictate of nature and virtue seems to be an early attachment to one woman; and where there were no impediments of any kind in the way of an union to which such an attachment would lead, and no causes of depopulation afterwards, the increase of the human species would be evidently much greater than any increase which has been hitherto known.
In the northern states of America, where the means of subsistence have been more ample, the manners of the people more pure, and the checks to early marriages fewer, than in any of the modern states of Europe, the population has been found to double itself, for above a century and a half successively, in less than twenty-five years.2 Yet, even during these periods, in some of the towns, the deaths exceeded the births,3 a circumstance which clearly proves that, in those parts of the country which supplied this deficiency, the increase must have been much more rapid than the general average.
In the back settlements, where the sole employment is agriculture, and vicious customs and unwholesome occupations are little known, the population has been found to double itself in fifteen years.4 Even this extraordinary rate of increase is probably short of the utmost power of population. Very severe labour is requisite to clear a fresh country; such situations are not in general considered as particularly healthy; and the inhabitants, probably, are occasionally subject to the incursions of the Indians, which may destroy some lives, or at any rate diminish the fruits of industry.
According to a table of Euler, calculated on a mortality of 1 in 36, if the births be to the deaths in the proportion of 3 to 1, the period of doubling will be only 12 years and 4-5ths.5 And this proportion is not only a possible supposition, but has actually occurred for short periods in more countries than one.
Sir William Petty supposes a doubling possible in so short a time as ten years.6
But, to be perfectly sure that we are far within the truth, we will take the slowest of these rates of increase, a rate in which all concurring testimonies agree, and which has been repeatedly ascertained to be from procreation only.
It may safely be pronounced, therefore, that population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio.
The rate according to which the productions of the earth may be supposed to increase, it will not be so easy to determine. Of this, however, we may be perfectly certain, that the ratio of their increase in a limited territory must be of a totally different nature from the ratio of the increase of population. A thousand millions are just as easily doubled every twenty-five years by the power of population as a thousand. But the food to support the increase from the greater number will by no means be obtained with the same facility. Man is necessarily confined in room. When acre has been added to acre till all the fertile land is occupied, the yearly increase of food must depend upon the melioration of the land already in possession. This is a fund; which, from the nature of all soils, instead of increasing, must be gradually diminishing. But population, could it be supplied with food, would go on with unexhausted vigour; and the increase of one period would furnish the power of a greater increase the next, and this without any limit.
From the accounts we have of China and Japan, it may be fairly doubted, whether the best-directed efforts of human industry could double the produce of these countries even once in any number of years. There are many parts of the globe; indeed, hitherto uncultivated, and almost unoccupied; but the right of exterminating, or driving into a corner where they must starve, even the inhabitants of these thinly-peopled regions, will be questioned in a moral view. The process of improving their minds and directing their industry would necessarily be slow; and during this time, as population would regularly keep pace with the increasing produce, it would rarely happen that a great degree of knowledge and industry would have to operate at once upon rich unappropriated soil. Even where this might take place, as it does sometimes in new colonies, a geometrical ratio increases with such extraordinary rapidity, that the advantage could not last long. If the United States of America continue increasing, which they certainly will do, though not with the same rapidity as formerly, the Indians will be driven further and further back into the country, till the whole race is ultimately exterminated, and the territory is incapable of further extension.
These observations are, in a degree, applicable to all the parts of the earth, where the soil is imperfectly cultivated. To exterminate the inhabitants of the greatest part of Asia and Africa, is a thought that could not be admitted for a moment. To civilise and direct the industry of the various tribes of Tartars and Negroes, would certainly be a work of considerable time, and of variable and uncertain success.
Europe is by no means so fully peopled as it might be. In Europe there is the fairest chance that human industry may receive its best direction. The science of agriculture has been much studied in England and Scotland; and there is still a great portion of uncultivated land in these countries. Let us consider at what rate the produce of this island might be supposed to increase under circumstances the most favourable to improvement.
If it be allowed that by the best possible policy, and great encouragements to agriculture, the average produce of the island could be doubled in the first twenty-five years, it will be allowing, probably, a greater increase than could with reason be expected.
In the next twenty-five years, it is impossible to suppose that the produce could be quadrupled. It would be contrary to all our knowledge of the properties of land. The improvement of the barren parts would be a work of time and labour; and it must be evident to those who have the slightest acquaintance with agricultural subjects, that in proportion as cultivation extended, the additions that could yearly be made to the former average produce must be gradually and regularly diminishing. That we may be the better able to compare the increase of population and food, let us make a supposition, which, without pretending to accuracy, is clearly more favourable to the power of production in the earth, than any experience we have had of its qualities will warrant.
Let us suppose that the yearly additions which might be made to the former average produce, instead of decreasing, which they certainly would do, were to remain the same; and that the produce of this island might be increased every twenty-five years, by a quantity equal to what it at present produces. The most enthusiastic speculator cannot suppose a greater increase than this. In a few centuries it would make every acre of land in the island like a garden.
If this supposition be applied to the whole earth, and if it be allowed that the subsistence for man which the earth affords might be increased every twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what it at present produces, this will be supposing a rate of increase much greater than we can imagine that any possible exertions of mankind could make it.
It may be fairly pronounced, therefore, that, considering the present average state of the earth, the means of subsistence, under circumstances the most favourable to human industry, could not possibly be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio.
The necessary effects of these two different rates of increase, when brought together, will be very striking. Let us call the population of this island eleven millions; and suppose the present produce equal to the easy support of such a number. In the first twenty-five years the population would be twenty-two millions, and the food being also doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this increase. In the next twenty-five years, the population would be forty-four millions, and the means of subsistence only equal to the support of thirty-three millions. In the next period the population would be eighty-eight millions, and the means of subsistence just equal to the support of half that number. And, at the conclusion of the first century, the population would be a hundred and seventy-six millions, and the means of subsistence only equal to the support of fifty-five millions, leaving a population of a hundred and twenty-one millions totally unprovided for.
Taking the whole earth, instead of this island, emigration would of course be excluded; and, supposing the present population equal to a thousand millions, the human species would increase as the numbers, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and subsistence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. In two centuries the population would be to the means of subsistence as 256 to 9; in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and in two thousand years the difference would be almost incalculable.
In this supposition no limits whatever are placed to the produce of the earth. It may increase for ever and be greater than any assignable quantity; yet still the power of population being in every period so much superior, the increase of the human species can only be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity, acting as a check upon the greater power.
Book I, Chapter II: Of the general Checks to Population, and the Mode of their Operation.
The ultimate check to population appears then to be a want of food, arising necessarily from the different ratios according to which population and food increase. But this ultimate check is never the immediate check, except in cases of actual famine.
The immediate check may be stated to consist in all those customs, and all those diseases, which seem to be generated by a scarcity of the means of subsistence; and all those causes, independent of this scarcity, whether of a moral or physical nature, which tend prematurely to weaken and destroy the human frame.
These checks to population, which are constantly operating with more or less force in every society, and keep down the number to the level of the means of subsistence, may be classed under two general heads—the preventive, and the positive checks.
The preventive check, as far as it is voluntary, is peculiar to man, and arises from that distinctive superiority in his reasoning faculties, which enables him to calculate distant consequences. The checks to the indefinite increase of plants and irrational animals are all either positive, or, if preventive, involuntary. But man cannot look around him, and see the distress which frequently presses upon those who have large families; he cannot contemplate his present possessions or earnings, which he now nearly consumes himself, and calculate the amount of each share, when with very little addition they must be divided, perhaps, among seven or eight, without feeling a doubt whether, if he follow the bent of his inclinations, he may be able to support the offspring which he will probably bring into the world. In a state of equality, if such can exist, this would be the simple question. In the present state of society other considerations occur. Will he not lower his rank in life, and be obliged to give up in great measure his former habits? Does any mode of employment present itself by which he may reasonably hope to maintain a family? Will he not at any rate subject himself to greater difficulties, and more severe labour, than in his single state? Will he not be unable to transmit to his children the same advantages of education and improvement that he had himself possessed? Does he even feel secure that, should he have a large family, his utmost exertions can save them from rags and squalid poverty, and their consequent degradation in the community? And may he not be reduced to the grating necessity of forfeiting his independence, and of being obliged to the sparing hand of Charity for support?
These considerations are calculated to prevent, and certainly do prevent, a great number of persons in all civilized nations from pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one woman.
If this restraint do not produce vice, it is undoubtedly the least evil that can arise from the principle of population. Considered as a restraint on a strong natural inclination, it must be allowed to produce a certain degree of temporary unhappiness; but evidently slight, compared with the evils which result from any of the other checks to population; and merely of the same nature as many other sacrifices of temporary to permanent gratification, which it is the business of a moral agent continually to make.
When this restraint produces vice, the evils which follow are but too conspicuous. A promiscuous intercourse to such a degree as to prevent the birth of children, seems to lower, in the most marked manner, the dignity of human nature. It cannot be without its effect on men, and nothing can be more obvious than its tendency to degrade the female character, and to destroy all its most amiable and distinguishing characteristics. Add to which, that among those unfortunate females, with which all great towns abound, more real distress and aggravated misery are, perhaps, to be found, than in any other department of human life.
When a general corruption of morals, with regard to the sex, pervades all the classes of society, its effects must necessarily be, to poison the springs of domestic happiness, to weaken conjugal and parental affection, and to lessen the united exertions and ardour of parents in the care and education of their children;—effects which cannot take place without a decided diminution of the general happiness and virtue of the society; particularly as the necessity of art in the accomplishment and conduct of intrigues, and in the concealment of their consequences necessarily leads to many other vices.
The positive checks to population are extremely various, and include every cause, whether arising from vice or misery, which in any degree contributes to shorten the natural duration of human life. Under this head, therefore, may be enumerated all unwholesome occupations, severe labour and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of common diseases and epidemics, wars, plague, and famine.
On examining these obstacles to the increase of population which I have classed under the heads of preventive and positive checks, it will appear that they are all resolvable into moral restraint, vice, and misery.
Of the preventive checks, the restraint from marriage which is not followed by irregular gratifications may properly be termed moral restraint.7
Promiscuous intercourse, unnatural passions, violations of the marriage bed, and improper arts to conceal the consequences of irregular connexions, are preventive checks that clearly come under the head of vice.
Of the positive checks, those which appear to arise unavoidably from the laws of nature, may be called exclusively misery; and those which we obviously bring upon ourselves, such as wars, excesses, and many others which it would be in our power to avoid, are of a mixed nature. They are brought upon us by vice, and their consequences are misery.8
The sum of all these preventive and positive checks, taken together, forms the immediate check to population; and it is evident that, in every country where the whole of the procreative power cannot be called into action, the preventive and the positive checks must vary inversely as each other; that is, in countries either naturally unhealthy, or subject to a great mortality, from whatever cause it may arise, the preventive check will prevail very little. In those countries, on the contrary, which are naturally healthy, and where the preventive check is found to prevail with considerable force, the positive check will prevail very little, or the mortality be very small.
In every country some of these checks are, with more or less force, in constant operation; yet, notwithstanding their general prevalence, there are few states in which there is not a constant effort in the population to increase beyond the means of subsistence. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject the lower classes of society to distress, and to prevent any great permanent melioration of their condition.
These effects, in the present state of society, seem to be produced in the following manner. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food, therefore, which before supported eleven millions, must now be divided among eleven millions and a half. The poor consequently must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers also being above the proportion of work in the market, the price of labour must tend to fall, while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise. The labourer therefore must do more work, to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage and the difficulty of rearing a family are so great, that the progress of population is retarded. In the mean time, the cheapness, of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of an increased industry among them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence may become in the same proportion to the population, as at the period from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened; and, after a short period, the same retrograde and progressive movements, with respect to happiness, are repeated.
This sort of oscillation will not probably be obvious to common view; and it may be difficult even for the most attentive observer to calculate its periods. Yet that, in the generality of old states, some alternation of this kind does exist though in a much less marked, and in a much more irregular manner, than I have described it, no reflecting man, who considers the subject deeply, can well doubt.
One principal reason why this oscillation has been less remarked, and less decidedly confirmed by experience than might naturally be expected, is, that the histories of mankind which we posses are, in general, histories only of the higher classes, We have not many accounts that can be depended upon, of the manners and customs of that part of mankind, where these retrograde and progressive movements chiefly take place. A satisfactory history of this kind, of one people and of one period, would require the constant and minute attention of many observing minds in local and general remarks on the state of the lower classes of society, and the causes that influenced it; and, to draw accurate inferences upon this subject, a succession of such historians for some centuries would be necessary. This branch of statistical knowledge has, of late years, been attended to in some countries,9 and we may promise ourselves a clearer insight into the internal structure of human society from the progress of these inquiries. But the science may be said yet to be in its infancy, and many of the objects, on which it would be desirable to have information, have been either omitted or not stated with sufficient accuracy. Among these, perhaps, may be reckoned the proportion of the number of adults to the number of marriages; the extent to which vicious customs have prevailed in consequence of the restraints upon matrimony; the comparative mortality among the children of the most distressed part of the community, and of those who live rather more at their ease; the variations in the real price of labour; the observable differences in the state of the lower classes of society, with respect to ease and happiness, at different times during a certain period; and very accurate registers of births, deaths, and marriages, which are of the utmost importance in this subject.
A faithful history, including such particulars, would tend greatly to elucidate the manner in which the constant check upon population acts; and would probable prove the existence of the retrograde and progressive movements that have been mentioned; though the times of their vibration must necessarily be rendered irregular from the operation of many interrupting causes; such as, the introduction or failure of certain manufactures; a greater or less prevalent spirit of agricultural enterprise; years of plenty, or years of scarcity; wars, sickly seasons, poor-laws, emigrations and other causes of a similar nature.
A circumstance which has, perhaps, more than any other, contributed to conceal this oscillation from common view, is the difference between the nominal and real price of labour. It very rarely happens that the nominal price of labour universally falls; but we well know that it frequently remains the same, while the nominal price of provisions has been gradually rising. This, indeed, will generally be the case, if the increase of manufactures and commerce be sufficient to employ the new labourers that are thrown into the market, and to prevent the increased supply from lowering the money-price.10 But an increased number of labourers receiving the same money-wages will necessarily, by their competition, increase the money-price of corn. This is, in fact, a real fall in the price of labour; and, during this period, the condition of the lower classes of the community must be gradually growing worse. But the farmers and capitalists are growing rich from the real cheapness of labour. Their increasing capitals enable them to employ a greater number of men; and, as the population had probably suffered some check from the greater difficulty of supporting a family, the demand for labour, after a certain period, would be great in proportion to the supply, and its price would of course rise, if left to find its natural level; and thus the wages of labour, and consequently the condition of the lower classes of society, might have progressive and retrograde movements, though the price of labour might never nominally fall.
In savage life, where there is no regular price of labour, it is little to be doubted that similar oscillations took place. When population has increased nearly to the utmost limits of the food, all the preventive and the positive checks will naturally operate with increased force. Vicious habits with respect to the sex will be more general, the exposing of children more frequent, and both the probability and fatality of wars and epidemics will be considerably greater; and these causes will probably continue their operation till the population is sunk below the level of the food; and then the return to comparative plenty will again produce an increase, and, after a certain period, its further progress will again be checked by the same causes.11
But without attempting to establish these progressive and retrograde movements in different countries, which would evidently require more minute histories than we possess, and which the progress of civilization naturally tends to counteract, the following propositions are intended to be proved:—
- 1. Population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.
- 2. Population invariably increases where the means of subsistence increase, unless prevented by some very powerful and obvious checks.12
- 3. These checks, and the checks which repress the superior, power of population, and keep its effects on a level with the means of subsistence, are all resolvable into moral restraint, vice and misery.
The first of these propositions scarcely needs illustration. The second and third will be sufficiently established by a review of the immediate checks to population in the past and present state of society.
This review will be the subject of the following chapters.
Book I, Chapter III: Of the Checks to Population in the lowest Stage of Human Society.
The wretched inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego have been placed, by the general consent of voyagers, at the bottom of the scale of human beings.13 Of their domestic habits and manners, however, we have few accounts. Their barren country, and the miserable state in which they live, have prevented any intercourse with them that might give such information; but we cannot be at a loss to conceive the checks to population among a race of savages, whose very appearance indicates them to be half starved, and who, shivering with cold, and covered with filth and vermin, live in one of the most inhospitable climates in the world, without having sagacity enough to provide themselves with such conveniencies as might mitigate its severities, and render life in some measure more comfortable.14
Next to these, and almost as low in genius and resources, have been placed the natives of Van Diemen's land;15 but some late accounts have represented the islands of Andaman in the East as inhabited by a race of savages still lower in wretchedness even than these. Every thing that voyagers have related of savage life is said to fall short of the barbarism of this people. Their whole time is spent in search of food: and as their woods yield them few or no supplies of animals, and but little vegetable diet, their principal occupation is that of climbing the rocks, or roving along the margin of the sea, in search of a precarious meal of fish, which, during the tempestuous season, they often seek for in vain. Their stature seldom exceeds five feet; their bellies are protuberant, with high shoulders, large heads, and limbs disproportionably slender. Their countenances exhibit the extreme of wretchedness, a horrid mixture of famine and ferocity; and their extenuated and diseased figures plainly indicate the want of wholesome nourishment. Some of these unhappy beings have been found on the shores in the last stage of famine.16
In the next scale of human beings we may place the inhabitants of New Holland, of a part of whom we have some accounts that may be depended upon, from a person who resided a considerable time at Port Jackson, and had frequent opportunities of being a witness to their habits and manners. The narrator of Captain Cook's first voyage having mentioned the very small number of inhabitants, that was seen on the eastern coast of New Holland, and the apparent inability of the country, from its desolate state, to support many more, observes, "By what means the inhabitants of this country are reduced to such a number as it can subsist, is not perhaps very easy to guess; whether, like the inhabitants of New Zealand, they are destroyed by the hands of each other in contests for food; whether they are swept off by accidental famine; or whether there is any cause that prevents the increase of the species, must be left for future adventurers to determine."17
The account which Mr. Collins has given of these savages will, I hope, afford in some degree a satisfactory answer. They are described as, in general, neither tall nor well made. Their arms, legs, and thighs, are thin, which is ascribed to the poorness of their mode of living. Those who inhabit the sea-coast depend almost entirely on fish for their sustenance, relieved occasionally by a repast on some large grubs which are found in the body of the dwarf gum-tree. The very scanty stock of animals in the woods, and the very great labour necessary to take them, keep the inland natives in as poor a condition as their brethren on the coast. They are compelled to climb the tallest trees after honey and the smaller animals, such as the flying squirrel and the opossum. When the stems are of great height, and without branches, which is generally the case in thick forests, this is a process of great labour, and is effected by cutting a notch with their stone hatchets for each foot successively, while their left arm embraces the tree. Trees were observed notched in this manner to the height of eighty feet before the first branch, where the hungry savage could hope to meet with any reward for so much toil.18
The woods, exclusive of the animals occasionally found in them, afford but little sustenance. A few berries, the yam, the fern root, and the flowers of the different banksias, make up the whole of the vegetable catalogue.19
A native with his child, surprised on the banks of the Hawksbury river by some of our colonists, launched his canoe in a hurry, and left behind him a specimen of his food, and of the delicacy of his stomach. From a piece of water-soaked wood, full of holes, he had been extracting and eating a large worm. The smell both of the worm and its habitation was in the highest degree offensive. These worms, in the language of the country, are called Cah-bro; and a tribe of natives dwelling inland, from the circumstance of eating these loathsome worms, is named Cah-brogal. The wood-natives also make a paste formed of the fern root and the large and small ants, bruised together; and, in the season, add the eggs of this insect.20
In a country, the inhabitants of which are driven to such resources for subsistence, where the supply of animal and vegetable food is so extremely scanty, and the labour necessary to procure it is so severe, it is evident, that the population must be very thinly scattered in proportion to the territory. Its utmost bounds must be very narrow. But when we advert to the strange and barbarous customs of these people, the cruel treatment of their women, and the difficulty of rearing children; instead of being surprised that it does not more frequently press to pass these bounds, we shall be rather inclined to consider even these scanty resources as more than sufficient to support all the population that could grow up under such circumstances.
The prelude to love in this country is violence, and of the most brutal nature. The savage selects his intended wife from the women of a different tribe, generally one at enmity with his own. He steals upon her in the absence of her protectors, and having first stupified her with blows of a club, or wooden sword, on the head, back, and shoulders, every one of which is followed by a stream of blood, he drags her through the woods by one arm, regardless of the stones and broken pieces of trees that may lie in his route, and anxious only to convey his prize in safety to his own party. The woman thus treated becomes his wife, is incorporated into the tribe to which he belongs, and but seldom quits him for another. The outrage is not resented by the relations of the female, who only retaliate by a similar outrage when it is in their power.21
The union of the sexes takes place at an early age; and instances were known to our colonists of very young girls having been much and shamefully abused by the males.22
The conduct of the husband to his wife or wives, seems to be nearly in character with this strange and barbarous mode of courtship. The females bear on their heads the traces of the superiority of the males, which is exercised almost as soon as they find strength in their arms to inflict a blow. Some of these unfortunate beings have been observed with more scars on their shorn heads, cut in every direction, than could well be counted. Mr. Collins feelingly says, "The condition of these women is so wretched, that I have often, on seeing a female child borne on its mother's shoulders, anticipated the miseries to which it was born, and thought it would be a mercy to destroy it."23 In another place, speaking of Bennilong's wife being delivered of a child, he says, "I here find in my papers a note, that for some offence Bennilong had severely beaten this woman in the morning, a short time before she was delivered."24
Women treated in this brutal manner must necessarily be subject to frequent miscarriages, and it is probable that the abuse of very young girls, mentioned above as common, and the too early union of the sexes in general, would tend to prevent the females from being prolific. Instances of a plurality of wives were found more frequent than of a single wife; but what is extraordinary, Mr. Collins did not recollect ever to have noticed children by more than one. He had heard from some of the natives, that the first wife claimed an exclusive right to the conjugal embrace, while the second was merely the slave and drudge of both.25
An absolutely exclusive right in the first wife to the conjugal embrace seems to be hardly probable; but it is possible that the second wife may not be allowed to rear her offspring. At any rate, if the observation be generally true, it proves that many of the women are without children, which can only be accounted for from the very severe hardships which they undergo, or from some particular customs which may not have come to the knowledge of Mr. Collins.
If the mother of a sucking child die, the helpless infant is buried alive in the same grave with its mother. The father himself places his living child on the body of his dead wife, and having thrown a large stone upon it, the grave is instantly filled by the other natives. This dreadful act was performed by Co-le-be, a native well known to our colonists, and who, on being talked to on the subject, justified the proceeding, by declaring that no woman could be found who would undertake to nurse the child, and that therefore it must have died a much worse death than that which he had given it. Mr. Collins had reason to believe that this custom was generally prevalent, and observes, that it may in some measure account for the thinness of the population.26
Such a custom, though in itself perhaps it might not much affect the population of a country, places in a strong point of view the difficulty of rearing children in savage life. Women obliged by their habits of living to a constant change of place, and compelled to an unremitting drudgery for their husbands, appear to be absolutely incapable of bringing up two or three children nearly of the same age. If another child be born before the one above it can shift for itself, and follow its mother on foot, one of the two must almost necessarily perish for want of care. The task of rearing even one infant, in such a wandering and laborious life, must be so troublesome, and painful, that we are not to be surprised that no woman can be found to undertake it who is not prompted by the powerful feelings of a mother.
To these causes, which forcibly repress the rising generation, must be added those which contribute subsequently to destroy it; such as the frequent wars of these savages with different tribes, and their perpetual contests with each other; their strange spirit of retaliation and revenge, which prompts the midnight murder, and the frequent shedding of innocent blood; the smoke and filth of their miserable habitations, and their poor mode of living, productive of loathsome cutaneous disorders; and, above all, a dreadful epidemic like the small-pox, which sweeps off great numbers.27
In the year 1789 they were visited by this epidemic, which raged among them with all the appearance and virulence of the small-pox. The desolation, which it occasioned, was almost incredible. Not a living person was to be found in the bays and harbours that were before the most frequented. Not a vestige of a human foot was to be traced on the sands. They had left the dead to bury the dead. The excavations in the rocks were filled with putrid bodies, and in many places the paths were covered with skeletons.28
Mr. Collins was informed, that the tribe of Co-le-be, the native mentioned before, had been reduced by the effects of this dreadful disorder to three persons, who found themselves obliged to unite with some other tribe, to prevent their utter extinction.29
Under such powerful causes of depopulation, we should naturally be inclined to suppose that the animal and vegetable produce of the country would be increasing upon the thinly scattered inhabitants, and, added to the supply of fish from their shores; would be more than sufficient for their consumption; yet it appears, upon the whole, that the population is in general so nearly on a level with the average supply of food, that every little deficiency from unfavourable weather or other causes, occasions distress. Particular times, when the inhabitants seemed to be in great want, are mentioned as not uncommon, and, at these periods, some of the natives were found reduced to skeletons, and almost starved to death.30
Book I, Chapter IV: Of the Checks to Population among the American Indians.
We may next turn our view to the vast continent of America, the greatest part of which was found to be inhabited by small independent tribes of savages, subsisting, nearly like the natives of New Holland, on the productions of unassisted nature. The soil was covered by an almost universal forest, and presented few of those fruits and esculent vegetables which grow in such profusion in the islands of the South Sea. The produce of a most rude and imperfect agriculture, known to some of the tribe of hunters, was so trifling as to be considered only as a feeble aid to the subsistence acquired by the chase. The inhabitants of this new world therefore might be considered as living principally by hunting and fishing;31 and the narrow limits to this mode of subsistence are obvious. The supplies derived from fishing could reach only those who were within a certain distance of the lakes, the rivers, or the sea-shore; and the ignorance and indolence of the improvident savage would frequently prevent him from extending the benefits of these supplies much beyond the time when they were actually obtained. The great extent of territory required for the support of the hunter has been repeatedly stated and acknowledged.32 The number of wild animals within his reach, combined with the facility, with which they may be either killed or insnared, must necessarily limit the number of his society. The tribes of hunters, like beasts of prey, whom they resemble in their mode of subsistence, will consequently be thinly scattered over the surface of the earth. Like beasts of prey, they must either drive away or fly from every rival, and be engaged in perpetual contests with each other.33
Under such circumstances, that America should be very thinly peopled in proportion to its extent of territory, is merely an exemplification of the obvious truth, that population cannot increase without the food to support it. But the interesting part of the inquiry, that part, to which I would wish particularly to draw the attention of the reader, is, the mode by which the population is kept down to the level of this scanty supply. It cannot escape observation, that an insufficient supply of food to any people does not shew itself merely in the shape of famine, but in other more permanent forms of distress, and in generating certain customs, which operate sometimes with greater force in the prevention of a rising population than in its subsequent destruction.
It was generally remarked, that the American women were far from being prolific.34 This unfruitfulness has been attributed by some to a want of ardour in the men towards their women, a feature of character, which has been considered as peculiar to the American savage. It is not however peculiar to this race, but probably exists in a great degree among all barbarous nations, whose food is poor and insufficient, and who live in a constant apprehension of being pressed by famine or by an enemy. Bruce frequently takes notice of it, particularly in reference to the Galla and Shangalla, savage nations on the borders of Abyssinia,35 and Vaillant mentions the phlegmatic temperament of the Hottentots as the chief reason of their thin population.36 It seems to be generated by the hardships and dangers of savage life, which take off the attention from the sexual passion; and that these are the principal causes of it among the Americans, rather than any absolute constitutional defect, appears probable, from its diminishing nearly in proportion to the degree in which these causes are mitigated or removed. In those countries of America, where, from peculiar situation or further advantages in improvement, the hardships of savage life are less severely felt, the passion between the sexes becomes more ardent. Among some of the tribes seated on the banks of rivers well stored with fish, or others that inhabit a territory greatly abounding in game or much improved in agriculture, the women are more valued and admired; and as hardly any restraint is imposed on the gratification of desire, the dissoluteness of their manners is sometimes excessive.37
If we do not then consider this apathy of the Americans as a natural defect in their bodily frame, but merely as a general coldness, and an infrequency of the calls of the sexual appetite, we shall not be inclined to give much weight to it as affecting the number of children to a marriage; but shall be disposed to look for the cause of this unfruitfulness in the condition and customs of the women in a savage state. And here we shall find reasons amply sufficient to account for the fact in question.
It is justly observed by Dr. Robertson, that, "Whether man has been improved by the progress of arts and civilization, is a question which in the wantonness of disputation has been agitated among philosophers. That women are indebted to the refinement of polished manners for a happy change in their state, is a point which can admit of no doubt."38 In every part of the world, one of the most general characteristics of the savage is to despise and degrade the female sex.39 Among most of the tribes in America their condition is so peculiarly grievous, that servitude is a name too mild to describe their wretched state. A wife is no better than a beast of burden. While the man passes his days in idleness or amusement, the woman is condemned to incessant toil. Tasks are imposed upon her without mercy, and services are received without complacence or gratitude.40 There are some districts in America where this state of degradation has been so severely felt, that mothers have destroyed their female infants, to deliver them at once from a life in which they were doomed to such a miserable slavery.41
This state of depression and constant labour, added to the unavoidable hardships of savage life, must be very unfavourable to the office of child-bearing;42 and the libertinage which generally prevails among the women before marriage, with the habit of procuring abortions, must necessarily render them more unfit for bearing children afterwards.43 One of the missionaries, speaking of the common practice among the Natchez of changing their wives, adds, unless they have children by them; a proof that many of these marriages were unfruitful, which may be accounted for from the libertine lives of the women before wedlock, which he had previously noticed.44
The causes that Charlevoix assigns of the sterility of the American women, are, the suckling their children for several years, during which time they do not cohabit with their husbands; the excessive labour to which they are always condemned, in whatever situation they may be; and the custom established in many places, of permitting the young women to prostitute themselves before marriage. Added to this, he says, the extreme misery to which these people are sometimes reduced, takes from them all desire of having children.45 Among some of the ruder tribes it is a maxim not to burthen themselves with rearing more than two of their offspring.46 When twins are born, one of them is commonly abandoned, as the mother cannot rear them both; and when a mother dies during the period of suckling her child, no chance of preserving its life remains, and, as in New Holland, it is buried in the same grave with the breast that nourished it.47
As the parents are frequently exposed to want themselves, the diffculty of supporting their children becomes at times so great, that they are reduced to the necessity of abandoning or destroying them.48 Deformed children are very generally exposed; and, among some of the tribes in South America, the children of mothers who do not bear their labours well, experience a similar fate, from a fear that the offspring may inherit the weakness of its parent.49
To causes of this nature we must ascribe the remarkable exemption of the Americans from deformities of make. Even when a mother endeavours to rear all her children without distinction, such a proportion of the whole number perishes under the rigorous treatment which must be their lot in the savage state, that probably none of those who labour under any original weakness or infirmity can attain the age of manhood. If they be not cut off as soon as they are born, they cannot long protract their lives under the severe discipline that awaits them.50 In the Spanish provinces, where the Indians do not lead so laborious a life, and are prevented from destroying their children, great numbers of them are deformed, dwarfish, mutilated, blind and deaf.51
Polygamy seems to have been generally allowed among the Americans, but the privilege was seldom used, except by the Caciques and chiefs, and now and then by others in some of the fertile provinces of the South, where subsistence was more easily procured. The difficulty of supporting a family confined the mass of the people to one wife;52 and this difficulty was so generally known and acknowledged, that fathers, before they consented to give their daughters in marriage, required unequivocal proofs in the suitor of his skill in hunting, and his consequent ability to support a wife and children.53 The women, it is said, do not marry early;54 and this seems to be confirmed by the libertinage among them before marriage, so frequently taken notice of by the missionaries and other writers.55
The customs above enumerated, which appear to have been generated principally by the experience of the difficulties attending the rearing of a family, combined with the number of children that must necessarily perish under the hardships of savage life, in spite of the best efforts of their parents to save them,56 must, without doubt, most powerfully repress the rising generation.
When the young savage has passed safely through the perils of his childhood, other dangers scarcely less formidable await him on his approach to manhood. The diseases to which man is subject in the savage state, though fewer in number, are more violent and fatal than those which prevail in civilized society. As savages are wonderfully improvident, and their means of subsistence always precarious, they often pass from the extreme of want to exuberant plenty, according to the vicissitudes of fortune in the chase, or to the variety in the produce of the seasons.57 Their inconsiderate gluttony in the one case, and their severe abstinence in the other, are equally prejudicial to the human constitution; and their vigour is accordingly at some seasons impaired by want, and at others by a superfluity of gross aliment, and the disorders arising from indigestions.58 These, which may be considered as the unavoidable consequences of their mode of living, cut off considerable numbers in the prime of life. They are likewise extremely subject to consumptions, to pleuritic, asthmatic, and paralytic disorders, brought on by the immoderate hardships and fatigues which they endure in hunting and war, and by the inclemency of the seasons, to which they are continually exposed.59
The missionaries speak of the Indians in South America as subject to perpetual diseases for which they know no remedy.60 Ignorant of the use of the most simple herbs, or of any change in their gross diet, they die of these diseases in great numbers. The Jesuit Fauque says, that, in all the different excursions which he had made, he scarcely found a single individual of an advanced age.61 Robertson determines the period of human life to be shorter among savages than in well-regulated and industrious communities.62 Raynal, notwithstanding his frequent declamations in favour of savage life, says of the Indians of Canada, that few are so long lived as our people, whose manner of living is more uniform and tranquil.63 And Cook and Pérouse confirm these opinions in the remarks which they make on some of the inhabitants of the north-west coast of America.64
In the vast plains of South America, a burning sun, operating on the extensive swamps and the inundations that succeed the rainy seasons, sometimes produces dreadful epidemics. The missionaries speak of contagious distempers as frequent among the Indians, and occasioning at times a great mortality in their villages.65 The smallpox every where makes great ravages, as, from want of care and from confined habitations, very few that are attacked recover from it.66 The Indians of Paraguay are said to be extremely subject to contagious distempers, notwithstanding the care and attentions of the Jesuits. The small-pox and malignant fevers, which, from the ravages they make, are called plagues, frequently desolate these flourishing missions; and, according to Ulloa, were the cause that they had not increased in proportion to the time of their establishment, and the profound peace which they had enjoyed.67
These epidemics are not confined to the south. They are mentioned as if they were not uncommon among the more northern nations;68 and, in a late voyage to the north-west coast of America, Captain Vancouver gives an account of a very extraordinary desolation apparently produced by some distemper of this kind. From New Dungeness he traversed a hundred and fifty miles of the coast without seeing the same number of inhabitants. Deserted villages were frequent, each of which was large enough to contain all the scattered savages that had been observed in that extent of country. In the different excursions which he made, particularly about Port Discovery, the skulls, limbs, ribs and back-bones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were scattered promiscuously in great numbers; and, as no warlike scars were observed on the bodies of the remaining Indians, and no particular signs of fear and suspicion were noticed, the most probable conjecture seems to be, that this depopulation must have been occasioned by pestilential disease.69 The small-pox appears to be common and fatal among the Indians on this coast. Its indelible marks were observed on many, and several had lost the sight of one eye from it.70
In general, it may be remarked of savages, that, from their extreme ignorance, the dirt of their persons, and the closeness and filth of their cabins,71 they lose the advantage which usually attends a thinly peopled country, that of being more exempt from pestilential diseases than those which are fully inhabited. In some parts of America the houses are built for the reception of many different families; and fourscore or a hundred people are crowded together under the same roof. When the families live separately, the huts are extremely small, close and wretched, without windows; and with the doors so low, that it is necessary to creep on the hands and knees to enter them.72 On the north-west coast of America, the houses are, in general, of the large kind; and Meares describes one of most extraordinary dimensions, belonging to a chief near Nootka Sound in which eight hundred persons ate, sat, and slept.73 All voyagers agree with respect to the filth of the habitations and the personal nastiness of the people on this coast.74 Captain Cook describes them as swarming with vermin, which they pick off and eat;75 and speaks of the state of their habitations in terms of the greatest disgust.76 Pérouse declares that their cabins have a nastiness and stench to which the den of no known animal in the world can be compared.77
Under such circumstances, it may be easily imagined what a dreadful havoc an epidemic must make, when once it appears among them; and it does not seem improbable, that the degree of filth described should generate distempers of this nature, as the air of their houses cannot be much purer than the atmosphere of the most crowded cities.
Those who escape the dangers of infancy and of disease, are constantly exposed to the chances of war; and notwithstanding the extreme caution of the Americans in conducting their military operations, yet, as they seldom enjoy any interval of peace, the waste of their numbers in war is considerable.78 The rudest of the American nations are well acquainted with the rights of each community to its own domains.79 And as it is of the utmost consequence to prevent others from destroying the game in their hunting grounds, they guard this national property with a jealous attention. Innumerable subjects of dispute necessarily arise. The neighbouring nations live in a perpetual state of hostility with each other.80 The very act of increasing in one tribe must be an act of aggression on its neighbours; as a larger range of territory will be necessary to support its increased numbers. The contest will in this case naturally continue, either till the equilibrium is restored by mutual losses, or till the weaker party is exterminated, or driven from its country. When the irruption of an enemy desolates their cultivated lands, or drives them from their hunting-grounds; as they have seldom any portable stores, they are generally reduced to extreme want. All the people of the district invaded, are frequently forced to take refuge in woods or mountains, which can afford them no subsistence, and where many of them perish.81 In such a flight each consults alone his individual safety. Children desert their parents, and parents consider their children as strangers. The ties of nature are no longer binding. A father will sell his son for a knife or a hatchet.82 Famine and distresses of every kind complete the destruction of those whom the sword had spared; and in this manner whole tribes are frequently extinguished.83
Such a state of things has powerfully contributed to generate that ferocious spirit of warfare observable among savages in general, and most particularly among the Americans. Their object in battle is not conquest, but destruction.84 The life of the victor depends on the death of his enemy; and, in the rancour and fell spirit of revenge with which he pursues him, he seems constantly to bear in mind the distresses that would be consequent on defeat. Among the Iroquois, the phrase by which they express their resolution of making war against an enemy, is, "Let us go and eat that nation." If they solicit the aid of a neighbouring tribe, they invite them to eat broth made of the flesh of their enemies.85 Among the Abnakis, when a body of their warriors enters an enemy's territory, it is generally divided into different parties, of thirty or forty; and the chief says to each, " To you is given such a hamlet to eat, to you such a village,"86 8c. These expressions remain in the language of some of the tribes, in which the custom of eating their prisoners taken in war no longer exists. Cannibalism, however, undoubtedly prevailed in many parts of the new world;87 and, contrary to the opinion of Dr. Robertson, I cannot but think that it must have had its origin in extreme want, though the custom might afterwards be continued from other motives. It seems to be a worse compliment to human nature and to the savage state, to attribute this horrid repast to malignant passions, without the goad of necessity, rather than to the great law of self-preservation, which has at times overcome every other feeling, even among the most humane and civilized people. When once it had prevailed, though only occasionally, from this cause; the fear that a savage might feel of becoming a repast to his enemies, might easily raise the passion of rancour and revenge to so high a pitch, as to urge him to treat his prisoners in this way, though not prompted at the time by hunger.
The missionaries speak of several nations, which appeared to use human flesh whenever they could obtain it, as they would the flesh of any of the rarer animals.88 These accounts may perhaps be exaggerated, though they seem to be confirmed in a great degree by the late voyages to the north-west coast of America, and by Capt. Cook's description of the state of society in the southern island of New Zealand.89 The people of Nootka Sound appear to be cannibals;90 and the chief of the district, Maquinna, is said to be so addicted to this horrid banquet, that, in cold blood, he kills a slave every moon to gratify his unnatural appetite.91
The predominant principle of self-preservation, connected most intimately in the breast of the savage, with the safety and power of the community to which he belongs, prevents the admission of any of those ideas of honour and gallantry in war, which prevail among more civilized nations. To fly from an adversary that is on his guard, and to avoid a contest where he cannot contend without risk to his own person, and consequently to his community, is the point of honour with the American. The odds of ten to one are necessary to warrant an attack on a person who is armed and prepared to resist; and even then each is afraid of being the first to advance92 The great object of the most renowned warrior is by every art of cunning and deceit, by every mode of stratagem and surprise that his invention can suggest, to weaken and destroy the tribes of his enemies with the least possible loss to his own. To meet an enemy on equal terms is regarded as extreme folly. To fall in battle, instead of being reckoned an honourable death,93 is a misfortune, which subjects the memory of a warrior to the imputation of rashness and imprudence. But to lie in wait day after day, till he can rush upon his prey when most secure, and least able to resist him; to steal in the dead of night upon his enemies, set fire to their huts, and massacre the inhabitants, as they fly naked and defenceless from the flames,94 are deeds of glory, which will be of deathless memory in the breasts of his grateful countrymen.
This mode of warfare is evidently produced by a consciousness of the difficulties attending the rearing of new citizens under, the hardships and dangers of savage life. And these powerful causes of destruction may in some instances be so great as to keep down the population even considerably below the means of subsistence; but the fear that the Americans betray of any diminution of their society, and their apparent wish to increase it, are no proofs that this is generally the case. The country could not probably support the addition that is coveted in each society; but an accession of strength to one tribe opens to it new sources of subsistence in the comparative weakness of its adversaries; and, on the contrary, a diminution of its numbers, so far from giving greater plenty to the remaining members, subjects them to extirpation or famine from the irruptions of their stronger neighbours.
The Chiriguanes, originally only a small part of the tribe of Guaranis, left their native country in Paraguay, and settled in the mountains towards Peru. They found sufficient subsistence in their new country, increased rapidly, attacked their neighbours, and by superior valour or superior fortune gradually exterminated them, and took possession of their lands; occupying a great extent of country, and having increased, in the course of some years, from three or four thousand to thirty thousand,95 while the tribes of their weaker neighbours were daily thinned by famine and the sword.
Such instances prove the rapid increase even of the Americans under favourable circumstances, and sufficiently account for the fear which prevails in every tribe of diminishing its numbers, and the frequent wish to increase, them,96 without supposing a superabundance of food in the territory actually possessed.
That the causes,97 which have been mentioned as affecting the population of the Americans, are principally regulated by the plenty or scarcity of subsistence, is sufficiently evinced from the greater frequency of the tribes, and the greater numbers in each, throughout all those parts of the country, where, from the vicinity of lakes or rivers, the superior fertility of the soil, or further advances in improvement, food becomes more abundant. In the interior of the provinces bordering on the Oronoco, several hundred miles may be traversed in different directions without finding a single hut, or observing the footsteps of a single creature. In some parts of North America, where the climate is more rigorous, and the soil less fertile, the desolation is still greater. Vast tracts of some hundred leagues have been crossed through uninhabited plains and forests.98